The passage I want to get a better understanding is in Page 19-20. It states, “I had milk,” she said. “I was pregnant with Denver but I had milk for my baby girl. I hadn’t stopped nursing her when I sent her on ahead with Howard and Buglar…” “All I knew was I had to get my milk to my baby girl. Nobody was going to nurse her like me. Nobody was going to get it to her fast enough, or take it away when she had enough and didn’t know it. Nobody knew that she couldn’t pass her air if you held her up on your shoulder, only if she was lying on my knees. Nobody knew that but me and nobody had her milk but me. I told that to the women in the wagon. Told them to put sugar water in cloth to suck from so when I got there in a few days she wouldn’t have forgot me. The milk would be there and I would be there with it.” “Men don’t know nothing much,” said Paul D, tucking his pouch back into his vest pocket, “but they do know a suckling can’t be away from its mother for long.” “Then they know what it’s like to send your children off when your breast are full.” “We was talking ‘bout a tree, Sethe.” “After I left you, those boys came in there and took my milk. That’s what they came in there for. Held me down and took it. I told Mrs. Garner on em. She had that lump and couldn’t speak but her eyes rolled out tears. Them boys found out I told on em. Schoolteacher made one open up my back and when it closed it made a tree. It grows there still.” “They used cowhide on you?” “And they took my milk.” “They beat you and you was pregnant?” “And they took my milk!”
I believe this passage is stating that Sethe was pregnant with Denver at the plantation, Sweet Home, but as a slave the children that she bore did not belong to her. Earlier in the text, it states that her other children, Howard and Buglar, were taken away, so I believe the plantation owners did not want Sethe to wean her child less there be any mother and child bond. The children that Sethe bore was just another piece of property to Sweet Home owners that can be used in the fields of that plantation. Therefore, the plantation owners stole Sethe’s milk, so that she did not get attached to her child. Furthermore, in the process of stealing Sethe’s milk, the plantation owners “open up her back” or broke the skin of her back by whipping her with cowhide. With the whippings that she received, her wounds eventually gave a scar that looked like a tree.
This scene was a reality to many blacks during the times of slavery in America (1600-1800’s). Slaves that had masters (plantation owners) were physically and emotionally branded and debased by the whippings of their owner. Also, if you look at a picture of a slave’s back after they got whipped, the scars looks liked a tree growing on their back. This scene also reminds me of the film, Glory. In, Glory, Private Trip, Denzel Washington, is accused of deserting his company, so, his superior officer, who is white, flogs him. In that scene, when you look at Private Trips back you can see the “tree” or scars from the many whippings he has endured as a slave. Furthermore, in Glory, the setting of the story is in the late 1800’s during the time of the civil war. So, maybe Beloved was also in that time period or earlier than the civil war.